Endless Brexit: Britain & Europe face potential disaster (by Ken Livingstone)

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Russia  Today-Ken Livingstone is an English politician, he served as the Mayor of London between 2000 and 2008. He is also a former MP and a former member of the Labour Party.

After Brexit negotiations limped along for two years with everyone expecting there would be some fudgy deal there’s now a risk of Britain leaving the EU without a deal in just a few days.

This Wednesday, Theresa May is meeting the other 27 EU leaders to persuade them to grant a Brexit extension until June 30, but the problem she faces is that several European leaders led by French President Emmanuel Macron are saying that if May can’t get a deal by Friday’s exit day Britain will have to leave without a deal.

Europe’s leaders are increasingly frustrated that the talks have gone on for so long without achieving anything and they think it might be more damaging to carry on with this uncertainty rather than just saying ‘goodbye Britain’ on Friday.

Theresa May has tried to avoid this by her announcement that she was going to negotiate with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree a deal that could get a majority in parliament, but as Corbyn’s team have made clear, after several days of negotiation, May has made no concessions to Labour’s policy or any serious amendment to her own deal which has already been rejected by parliament three times.

Labour announced May had failed to offer “real change or compromise” in these talks and criticised her, saying “We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together.”

Many Tory MPs are appalled at her negotiating with a Labour leader they smear as a dangerous Marxist. They are also concerned that if the delay goes on beyond June, Britain will have to vote in the European elections next month.

May’s letter to the EU indicated she was preparing to run candidates in the European elections on May 23 if no deal had been reached by then. France hit back making it clear it’s prepared now to have a no deal Brexit on April 12 unless May makes significant changes to her proposed Brexit deal. Belgium and Spain are supporting the French. The support rallying behind Macron’s hard line was fuelled when the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted that Britain should use its power to disrupt the EU if there was a significant delay in our Brexit. This sparked a response from an EU official who said “The functioning of the EU is an essential element as to how we proceed. The tweet of Jacob Rees-Mogg showed what they are capable of,” as cited by the Guardian.

In a diplomatic cable from the French ambassador to his European colleagues, he argued that there should only be a short extension to article 50 in order to avoid a financial panic, “We could probably extend for a couple of weeks to prepare ourselves in the markets.”

May’s position was undermined when Labour’s Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, made it clear that May’s government was refusing to agree to significant changes to the political declaration negotiated with Brussels.

May’s team denounced Starmer’s position saying “We have made serious proposals in talks this week, and are prepared to pursue changes to the political declaration in order to deliver a deal that is acceptable to both sides. We are ready to hold further detailed discussions this weekend in order to seek any such changes in the run up to the European council meeting on Wednesday. The government is determined to work constructively to deliver the Brexit people voted for and avoid participation in the European parliamentary elections.”

These contradictory claims have opened up the prospect that May will not be able to get her Brexit extension at the EU meeting on Wednesday as each of the twenty-seven nations has the power to veto such a proposal. This has now provoked panic amongst the minority of Tory MPs who are still fighting hard to achieve a Brexit deal, with several now prepared to accept Britain remaining in the customs union just as Labour has proposed.

French secretary of state for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin warned “The European council took a clear decision on March 21st… Another extension requires the UK to put forward a plan with clear and credible political backing,” as cited in the Guardian.  She also stated, “In the absence of such a plan we would have to acknowledge that the UK chose to leave the EU in a disorderly manner.” The strong stance of the French government may have been a key factor in the decline in the value of the pound in the foreign exchange markets.

France will face strong opposition from other EU members about its hard line with one anonymous EU source saying, “The discussion showed wide support to Donald Tusk’s idea of a long flextension.”

Leading the opposition to the French are the Germans who issued a statement stating “There are positive elements… already the Conservatives discussion with Labour provides enough to justify an extension. But we agree that we need more precision as the French suggest.” The problem for the Germans is that the discussions between Labour and the Tories have made no progress over this weekend.

French diplomats warned “If the European council were to take the view that it is going to be a no deal next week we could probably extend for a couple of weeks to prepare ourselves in the markets and no agreement is still the most probable scenario.”

The EU is among the top three biggest economies in the world and the idea that Britain can walk away without doing severe damage to its own economy is nonsense. Almost every organisation in Britain that represents the business community is completely opposed to a no-deal Brexit and in recent weeks many people have told me about the damage that this might cause to their small family-sized companies. Most small firms are now investing less in their own companies and are deeply concerned that with a hard border between us and Europe (with long delays and expensive tariffs) they won’t get the produce delivered that they need in order for their firms to survive.

I was recently having a cancer scan and the Spanish doctor who was conducting it told me how concerned she is that she and her children will have to leave Britain this year. Many people worry they may no longer be able to drive freely into Europe. A friend recently told me that over the summer he was planning to drive his family from Holland down to Austria but he was too embarrassed to take his UK car and instead decided to spend a great deal more money by taking a ferry to Holland and hiring a car with EU number plates to drive the whole trip. Many also have worries that if they need medical attention whilst in Europe they will not be allowed to get it. No one has come up with a clear statement about what is or is not going to happen about these issues.

The rest of the world is watching in disbelief. In the New York Times Thomas L. Friedman wrote “If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t come to London right now because there is political farce everywhere. In truth though it’s not very funny, it’s actually tragic… What we’re seeing is a country that’s determined to commit economic suicide but can’t even agree on how to kill itself.” He went on to say we were led by “a ship of fools” unwilling to “compromise with one another and with reality… an epic failure of political leadership,” scary stuff “but you can’t fix stupid.”

In the Washington Post Fareed Zakaria wrote“Brexit will mark the end of Britain’s role as a great power. Britain famous for its prudence, propriety and punctuality is suddenly looking like a banana republic.” She goes on to warn that the consequences of a no-deal Brexit could mean the beginning of the end of “the West as a political and strategic entity.”

An even bigger concern in Britain is that a no-deal Brexit could trigger the Scottish National Party to push for Scottish independence so that they could remain in the EU.

The impact of all of this uncertainty was shown in the results of the by-election for the parliamentary seat of Newport West last week. Although Labour held the seat, its vote went down by 12 percent and the Tory vote by eight percent. UKIP surged into third place with its voting increasing from 2.5 percent in the 2017 election to nine percent.

I think it’s time for me to check what odds the bookies are giving on the outcome of this crisis, because I might win enough to pay off my mortgage.

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